As many of you know, here at Booz Allen, we’ve got an internal suite of social media tools available on our Intranet – hello.bah.com. While it’s garnered a lot of publicity, won awards, and really changed the way we think about virtual collaboration here, I get asked this question and others like it (e.g., why isn’t anyone asking questions? How do I get people to read the blog? Why isn’t anyone editing the wiki pages?) at least once a week.
These aren’t trivial questions – people take the time to create a blog post or add content to a wiki because of the promise of emergent collaboration. They hear stories about people getting entire white papers written by people they don’t even know because it was posted to an open wiki; they see blog posts with dozens of comments that lead to new initiatives; they read forum threads dozens of pages long with input from people across the organization and they want to realize those benefits too. Against everything they’ve learned over the years, they post some content to this open and transparent platform with the hopes that people will flock to it, adding comments, having discussions, linking to additional resources, and interacting with their information. When that collaboration and interaction doesn’t happen, they quickly get turned off and will either A) assume they did something wrong and not go back or B) believe that they’ve been sold a lot of snake oil and this social media stuff isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
As you might imagine, neither of these conclusions bode well for the long-term health of a virtual community behind the firewall. So, what do I tell these folks when they ask me why no one is reading their forum posts, commenting on their blogs, or editing their wiki pages? I start by sending them these eight bullets –
- Write interesting content. You’d be surprised at some of the mind-numbingly boring stuff government consultants blog about. Realistically, out of the 20,000+ people at the firm, how many of them are really going to be interested in your jargon and acronym-filled blog post about the latest developments in IT Service Management? Write something that more than the 20 people on your team will be interested in if you’re looking to get greater engagement.
- Email is still king. Despite all its successes to date, hello.bah.com isn’t a daily, in the workflow destination for most of our staff. They see the potential of it, and use it occasionally, but visiting the hello homepage to check out the latest blog posts and wiki changes isn’t exactly at the top of mind for most people yet. Post your blog entry, wiki content, forum thread, etc. and then send out an email with a link to it.
- Cross-promote. Include the link to your content in your team newsletters, meeting agendas/minutes, email signatures, briefings, Yammer messages, and any other communications vehicles you use. Just because you’re the boss/team lead/project manager doesn’t mean people have automatically subscribed to everything you do and are waiting with bated breath for your next post. When our senior VP started blogging internally, we sent out a mass email with each post that included a link to the post, a short blurb on what it was about, and directions for how to subscribe for future posts. We did this for the first five posts or so until people were aware that the blog was out there.
- The world doesn’t revolve around you. Don’t just post and then whine about people not commenting on your content. Ask yourself if you’ve gone out and commented on anyone else’s blogs. No? Then why are you surprised that no one is commenting on yours. Go find other posts and wiki pages related to your topic and engage there. Include links back to your content as “additional information you might find useful.”
- Give people an action. Why are you posting in the first place? Do you want to get people’s opinions on some new initiative? Do you want cross-team collaboration on a white paper? Are you asking your team if they have questions about the new reorganization? Be clear about what you want from your readers.
- Tell them what’s in it for them. Tell me what benefit I get from taking time out of my day to click over to your blog/wiki page/forum and read it. Will I get an opportunity to influence future policy? Will this be the new location where all of our meeting agendas and minutes will be kept? Is creating my profile required for my performance assessment? Will I get to get answers directly from a VP instead of some anonymous email address? Don’t just tell me that it’s there and to click the link because that’s not enough. Entice me. Whet my appetite for what I’m going to get for my time.
- Do some internal “pitching.” I’ve had colleagues reach out to me and ask me if I’d blog about their programs on my blog. People have asked me to go out to Yammer and link back to their wiki pages. I’ve received internal emails from people pitching me on their project and asking me to “get my team to engage with their content.” This isn’t because I’m some subject matter expert, it’s because I happen to have a popular internal blog and my readers and friends tend to read what I write and click over to things I link to. Find people like me and make them aware of your content and ask them to get involved. No one wants to be the first person to respond – they want to see that other people have read it and commented on it too. Aren’t you more likely to read a blog post that has 20 comments than one that has none?
- Lastly, be a community manager. When the comments on our VP’s blog all started to skew toward the “thanks for posting – great job” variety, the value of those comments went way down (our VPs don’t need any more self-esteem:). That’s when I started to post some more contradictory/controversial comments and posts. I wanted to model the behavior that people could/should take when participating in that online community. Other people needed to see how to interact in this new environment.